When I started writing The Fight Within, I knew it would be Bryce’s story, but I needed a love interest. I was watching a documentary and the image of Paytah took shape in my mind. I knew a number of things about Paytah. He’d been hurt and left pretty much alone. Most of his family was gone, as was his outlook for life, so all he had left was his pride in his heritage, which he wrapped around himself like a suit of armor. He’s a great character, but I couldn’t figure out how he’d been hurt so badly. Paytah wasn’t talking, keeping everything to himself.
At this point I actually stopped work on the story and put it aside. I couldn’t get a bead on the characters and I ended up going to work on A
. It wasn’t until I finished
that story that I returned to The Fight
Within, but I was no further along.
Then in mid-June an article appeared in my local newspaper about a
victim of abuse who had come forward. He
was only referred to as Victim #1 in the article, but his story was compelling,
and instantly Paytah’s back story filled in like blank pages in a
notebook. I went back to work on the
story and finished it in near record time.
From start to finish, The Fight
Within took me longer than most stories, but it deals with some of my
favorite themes—healing, coming alive after loss, and finding you can live
again when life happens to put someone you could love in your path. When that happens, all you have to do is grab
it and hold on. That decision is always
a fight, a fight within. Volatile Range
Bryce Morton needs a change of scenery. Since his partner’s death a year ago, he’s become withdrawn and quiet, so his friends, Jerry Lincoln and Akecheta (John) Black Raven, convince him to go camping with them on a Sioux reservation. Though he’s not immediately sure he’s done the right thing, Bryce becomes more interested when he meets Paytah, the man who owns the reservation's trading post.
Paytah Stillwater's life is filled with hurt, and sometimes the only thing he has left is pride. After being abused as a child and disbelieved when he spoke up, he has withdrawn into himself—but he can never truly put his past behind him, because the source of his pain still lives on the reservation. Paytah is proud of his heritage and careful with his heart, but when Bryce commits a selfless act of kindness for one of the reservation’s children, the walls around Paytah’s heart begin to melt.
Bryce and Paytah each fight the pain within them. When Paytah's abuser sets his sights on one of the reservation youngsters, Bryce and Payton must set their individual fights aside. Finding a way to stop the abuser unites them to fight their way forward—together.
“Dang,” Jerry said from next to him, turning toward John. “I forgot to pick up hot dog buns for the campout.”
“I can run to the trading post in a few minutes,” John said, tapping Jerry’s hand. “They’ll probably have some, and if not, I brought a loaf of bread.” Both Mato and Ichante groaned together. Obviously eating hot dogs on bread was not popular.
Bryce pushed back his chair. “I’ll go in to pick them up if someone can give me directions,” he offered. He was anxious to get away for a little while.
“I can go,” John said, but Bryce was already asking for the keys, and Jerry handed them to him.
“Turn right out of the driveway and go to the end of the road. Turn left, and just before you reach the reservation center, the trading post is on the left,” Jerry told him, and John pressed some bills into his hand. Bryce tried to give them back, but a stern look from his friend stopped him.
“I’ll be back soon,” Bryce said, shoving the bills into his pocket. He heard the kids ask to come with him, but Jerry quietly hushed them as Bryce left the house. He walked to the van and climbed into the driver’s seat.
The directions Jerry had given him were easy to follow, and soon he was parked in front of what looked like a small, rustic grocery store. There was no one else in the lot, which Bryce thought a bit strange, but he slammed the van door, then walked to the front door and pulled it open.
Inside, the first thing he noticed was a complete lack of air-conditioning, though a number of ceiling fans stirred the air. Bryce looked around and realized this was much more than just a grocery store. It also appeared to act as post office, lending library, tackle and bait shop, as well as hardware store. And judging by the scent, a bakery.
The man behind the counter with long black hair and a stern expression that made him initially appear much older looked up from the magazine he was reading and met Bryce’s gaze. Bryce shivered in response. Never in his life had he seen such a hard look from a complete stranger. “Afternoon,” Bryce said, his mouth a little dry.
The man nodded but said nothing. However, his gaze never left Bryce. Figuring the best course of action was to get what he needed and get out, Bryce walked up and down the aisles, picking up hot dog buns, a case of the soda he liked, and some fruit snacks for the kids. He also couldn’t help following his nose to the cinnamon-sugar doughnuts he’d been smelling since he entered. “What do you want?” the man said, the look in his eyes not softening one bit. “You some tourist here to see the injuns?” he asked mockingly.
“No. I’m a guest of the Black Ravens,” Bryce said, and the man’s look softened slightly. “I’m also helping to teach computer classes this weekend at the community center.” Bryce forced a smile, because, after all, there was no need to meet rudeness with rudeness. He placed his purchases on the counter. “I’d also like a dozen of the cinnamon-sugar doughnuts.”
The man got out a bag and counted out twelve doughnuts for him before ringing everything up. “That’ll be $19.90,” he said.
Bryce pulled out his wallet and handed the man a twenty. He didn’t make any move to take it, and Bryce moved the bill closer. “Is something wrong?” Bryce asked, looking at the bill to make sure it was okay.
“We don’t take those here,” the man said.
“Take what?” Bryce asked in complete confusion.
“Bills with the Indian Hater on them. If you don’t have something else, you can go.” He actually sat down, so Bryce fished around in his wallet, but all he had were twenties. Then he remembered the money John had given him and pulled two tens from his pocket and placed them on the counter.
“Is that better?” Bryce asked, and the man took the bills and handed Bryce a dime without touching his hand. He bagged up the groceries and gave them to Bryce without a word. Then he sat back down and started reading his magazine again.
“You’re welcome,” Bryce said, turning away from the counter, as pissed off as he could ever remember being.
Bryce carried his purchases out of the store. As he opened the door, he turned back to the man and saw him staring at him. Bryce met his gaze as sort of a challenge, and then stepped outside. After placing the bag on the seat, Bryce retraced his route and drove back to Kiya’s. Leaving the bag in the van for later, he went inside. It appeared that no one had moved in the time he’d been gone. Though more food had been devoured, the din of overlapping conversations hadn’t lessened one bit.
“How did it go?” Jerry asked, and Bryce shrugged and rolled his eyes.
“You met Paytah Stillwater, didn’t you?” John asked.
“If you mean the surliest, crankiest person on earth, then yeah,” Bryce said sitting back down. “He made me pay with tens,” Bryce said.
“That’s why I gave them to you,” John said as he shifted his gaze to his mother.
“There are many in the Native American communities who hate Andrew Jackson. They consider him the devil and a killer of our people. He stole land from native groups, including the ones that had helped him win his famous battles, and he was also responsible for the Trail of Tears, so many of our people avoid using twenty-dollar bills. The ATMs on the reservation generally only dispense tens.”
“I didn’t know. He looked at me like I’d killed his relatives,” Bryce said, still a bit shaken up.
Kiya shook her head. “Paytah is a different sort of man. He’s fiercely protective of our heritage and he tends to be a little militant about it.”
About the Author:
Andrew grew up in western Michigan with a father who loved to tell stories and a mother who loved to read them. Since then he has lived throughout the country and traveled throughout the world. He has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and works in information systems for a large corporation. Andrew's hobbies include collecting antiques, gardening, and leaving his dirty dishes anywhere but in the sink (particularly when writing) He considers himself blessed with an accepting family, fantastic friends, and the world’s most supportive and loving partner. Andrew currently lives in beautiful, historic Carlisle, Pennsylvania.